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A lyrical analysis of The Weeknd’s “My Dear Melancholy,”

Apr. 12, 2018
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Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, more commonly known as “The Weeknd,” is an Ethiopian-Canadian singer, songwriter, and producer. Though only in his 20s, he has already released several critically-acclaimed tracks and albums. The release of this project has been highly anticipated by fans due to his last two high-profile relationships with model Bella Hadid and singer Selena Gomez, particularly after Tesfaye reportedly reached out to Hadid after his romance with Gomez had ended.

My Dear Melancholy, debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200, becoming Tesfaye’s third consecutive project to do so. The project’s release took everyone by surprise, and it’s been hinted that it will be the first part of a future trilogy of three extended-play (EP) records that will result in a full-length album by the end of 2018.

The word “melancholy” refers to a feeling of pensive sadness, which is a fitting title for the six-track EP describing the aftermath of an unsuccessful relationship. By tackling his feelings head on, The Weeknd’s listeners experience the raw emotions he felt in his most recent relationships. My Dear Melancholy, includes six emotional, passionate ballads; the sweet romances and strong feelings he sings so softly about are accompanied by the bitter aftertaste of heartbreak. 

1. “Call Out My Name” I put you on top / I claimed you so proud and openly / and when times were rough / when times were rough / I made sure I held you close to me

Tesfaye speaks from the perspective of a ride-or-die partner whose lover was not able to reciprocate the commitment. The imbalance in power continues even after their relationship ends. 

The singer goes as far as begging his partner to not leave him: “Girl, why can't you wait till I fall out of love?”. Tesfaye did not have a say in their breakup. The slow and steady beat of this track puts the audience in a thoughtful mood, especially when accompanied by Tesfaye’s heartbreaking narrative.

2. “Try Me” Don't you mess with me / the way I kissed your scars / the way I fixed your heart / oh, don't you miss me, babe?

In “Try Me”, Tesfaye calls out a previous lover. Even though she’s now in a new relationship, this does not stop him from reflecting on their shared past. Lyrically, he recounts the good things he has done for her (“the way I kissed your scars, the way I fixed your heart”).

Tesfaye doesn’t describe how the relationship itself ended, or address any of its downsides. By only emphasizing the positive aspects of their past, it’s clear that he hopes he can eliminate any potential doubts she has about reconciling with him.

3. “Wasted Times”And even though you put my life through hell / I can't seem to forget 'bout you / 'bout you / I want you to myself

Tesfaye reflects upon his inability to move on in “Wasted Times,” discussing the ways in which a girl who has broken his heart stays on his mind despite the nasty nature of their breakup. Even when he tries to move on to other girls, he cannot stop comparing them to his ex. What’s worse, Tesfaye is so hung up on his previous lover that he is trying to ruin her new relationship (“Don't make me run up on 'em / got me blowin' up their spot”).

4. “I Was Never There (Ft. Gesaffelstein)” What makes a grown man wanna cry? (Cry, cry, cry, cry) / What makes him wanna take his life? (Yeah) / His happiness is never real (Real, real, real, real)

In “I Was Never There,” Tesfaye expresses his inability to properly cope with a certain breakup. As a result of the split, he has resorted to suicidal thoughts and numbs his senses with alcohol and drugs. 

In the beginning of the track, Tesfaye asks, “What makes a grown man wanna cry?”. The question is echoed by vulnerability as the singer references crying, thoughts of suicide, and a loss of joy. In today’s culture, grown men are generally expected to be tough and rather stoic—but instead, Tesfaye is owning up to his vulnerability, displaying how big of an impact this breakup has had on him.

5. “Hurt You” ‘Cause if it's love you want again / don't waste your time

The EP’s narrative switches in “Hurt You.” Instead of talking about how he is the one being broken, Tesfaye warns a previous lover to not come back to him, worrying about how capable he is of hurting her.

In “Hurt You,” Tesfaye has an the epiphany: he is incapable of functioning in a relationship, lacking the ability to provide emotional support. The Weeknd can only be there for his lover physically, not emotionally. 

6. “Privilege” We said our last goodbyes / so let's just try to end it with a smile

The EP ends with Tesfaye declaring his ability to finally move on from his ex, not wanting to hold her accountable for his heartbreak anymore. As he remarks in the bridge, “I know I’ll be okay.” 

When the singer quips, “I got two red pills to take the blues away,” the red pills may signify one of two meanings. Popularized by The Matrix, red pills might signify seeing reality with clarity; the other option is oxytocin, a commonly red pill, which triggers hormones to react in "pro-social behaviors and emotional responses contributes to relaxation, trust, and psychological stability.” Keeping either definition in mind, listeners may cast doubt on Tesfaye’s supposed ability to “move on.”

All in all, Tesfaye’s EP is a success. It has achieved mainstream success and praise from critics. In using explicit lyrics and underlying hints about what happened to his past relationships, the singer placed himself in an emotionally vulnerable position for the world to judge. The somber, brooding tone of My Dear Melancholy, is comparable to that of The Weeknd’s Trilogy era; both records have far darker and more emotional tones than his more upbeat hits like “Starboy” and “Can’t Feel My Face.”

My Dear Melancholy, is a success because of its impact: it allows listeners to vicariously experience his pain.